Who's Afraid of Rebekah Wade? (Hans Blix)

Article excerpt

When Hans Blix talks, he booms. The words tumble from his toothy mouth in a cascade of adverbs and adjectives that often leave the listener stunned. No one -- not even, it is said, Saddam Hussein--would like to be in his shoes. The prospect of war and peace lies squarely on the shoulders of this septuagenarian Swede who, as the UN's chief weapons inspector, weighs every word before it is pronounced.

Dr Blix knows that a thoughtless or combustible phrase here and there, and catastrophe could beckon. But we needn't worry about that, because although this most genial of men likes to talk and talk and talk, he remains remarkably cool in the face of extraordinary pressure.

Other people, as his spokesman, Ewen Buchanan, readily notes, might be having a nervous breakdown" in his position -- but not Dr Blix. He slept on board the British Airways flight en route to Baghdad. And when he got to Cyprus, the UN monitors' main operations base, he briefly rested again, showered, performed for CNN, performed for Dan Rather and CBS (no mean feat), performed for me and then went out for a good fish dinner.

This is exactly why the diplomatic Dr Blix is the right man for the thankless job of both divining and declaring whether Iraq has fully disarmed. All that snarling about his not being "up to the job" from the hawks in Washington says more about their fear of his equanimity, and Nordic decency, than anything else.

After all, one of the Cambridge-educated lawyer's favourite phrases is: "I understand how the Iraqis feel." But save for our very own Rebekah Wade, who Blix admits "seems very frightening" -- along with the Sun, "which of course I never read" -- he fears no one. Not Saddam, not George Dubbya, not Tony Blair, who has been "very, very supportive".

"If I meet Saddam, I'll be frank," he says forcefully, and somehow you believe him. …